Letchworth Garden City has joined a network of communities across the UK who are leading the way on tackling throw away plastic. The town has been awarded Plastic Free Community Approved status by Marine Conservation charity, Surfers Against Sewage (SAS), in recognition of the work it has done to start reducing the impact of single-use plastic on the environment.

Transition Town Letchworth, a charity whose aim is to tackle climate change locally,started the campaign in January 2018 with a lively public meeting which was fortuitously aligned with the final episode of Blue Planet II.

Registering with the SAS Plastic Free Communities movement, Transition Town Letchworth pulled together key organisations and businesses in the town to put in place a five-point plan. The objectives included; setting up a community led steering group, getting local council commitment and working with local businesses, organisations, schools and community groups to spread the word and minimise the amount of disposable plastics they use.

As Diane Ketcher, the campaign co-ordinator explained, “Letchworth is lucky to have a few pioneer businesses who were keen to set an example. Independent Bookshop, David’s, led the way by making changes in its café. It’s been a real team effort. For example, North Herts District Council awarded us a locality grant to give all the primary schools Wild Tribe Story books to get them started on their Plastic Free journey, the Business Improvement District funded reusable cloth bags which the local residents could get in return for a Plastic Free pledge at the launch event and the local Heritage Foundation screened a Plastic Ocean at their independent cinema.

“It’s been great to see local businesses reducing their reliance on plastic, switching to paper bags and compostable take-away containers. Some local establishments now offer discounts for taking your own cup, the best way to reduce waste. Local shops including Letchworth’s zero-waste shop, Bamboo Turtle, also stock plastic free alternatives like shampoo bars and metal straws.

“Stalls at the campaign launch, Food and Drink festivals, the Letchworth Festival and at Christmas and May Day celebrations in town have proved great opportunities to share ideas on how to reduce reliance on plastic with the general public. Litter picks have been arranged across the town with another one planned for the 15th June as part of the Letchworth Festival.

“We have had strong support from Letchworth and Baldock District Scouts, who have themed evening meetings on reducing plastics and regularly carry out litter picks. Letchworth has an abundance of community venues and community groups who have become project allies. Invitations to groups in neighbouring towns have also allowed the team to share ideas further afield.”

Steering group member, Julia Sonander explained that “There is a real sense of achievement in reaching this first step of gaining Plastic Free Status for Letchworth. We are now looking forward to the next part of the journey to help the town reduce its plastic waste. Some of the objectives set by SAS have been challenging, but the SAS scheme has forced us to reach out across the town and meet new people, which is what we have to do if we are going to tackle the plastic problem.”

Cllr Steve Jarvis, North Hertfordshire District Council’s (NHDC) Executive Member for the Environment said: “Congratulations to Letchworth for being the first town in Hertfordshire to be awarded this status. It is a testament to the hard work of residents and businesses working closely with Transition Town Letchworth, that the town has been able to achieve this. Reducing the use of plastics is a vital step in helping our environment thrive and prosper in the future. This is why NHDC decided to take action at its Full Council meeting in July 2018 to support Plastic Free Letchworth, and to eliminate its own use of single use plastics. The Council will be launching it’s own campaign very soon to encourage North Hertfordshire residents and businesses to do even more to reduce the use of single-use plastics.”

The Surfers Against Sewage Plastic Free Community network aims to free the places where we live from single-use. Using the five point plan the aim is to empower communities to kick start local grassroots action, which can then be built upon.

The marine conservation charity, based in St Agnes in Cornwall, says it wants to unite communities to tackle avoidable plastic from the beach all the way back to the brands and businesses who create it. It says it is not about removing all plastic from our lives, but kicking our addiction to throwaway plastic and changing the system that produces it.

Rachel Yates, SAS Plastic Free Communities Project Officer, said: “It’s great to see the work that Letchworth has done to reduce the availability of avoidable plastics, raise awareness and encourage people to reduce, refill and reuse.

“We have over five hundred communities across the UK working to reduce single use plastic and the impact it has on our environment. Every step those communities and the individuals in them take is a step towards tackling the problem at source, challenging our throwaway culture and encouraging the habit and system changes we need to see.”

More information: Transition Town Letchworth, Community Lead, Plastic Free Letchworth: contact ttletchworth@gmail.com

Plastic Free Communities: www.plasticfree.org.uk

Surfers Against Sewage: www.sas.org.uk

Plastic Free Communitiesis an ambitious community initiative designed to unite and empower individuals, small businesses, local government and community groups to reduce their collective plastic footprint and protect the environment together. Driven by inspirational local volunteers, we are building a new and exciting community movement tackling single-use plastics and plastic litter in our villages, towns, cities and rural locations.   This highly inclusive initiative, created for all ages and backgrounds, is designed to get the whole community active and do something positive to reduce the amount of plastic in the local environment. We believe that united communities lead to cleaner beaches, streets, parks and riverbanks.

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